Monday, April 11, 2016

Starting a Food Business Begins with Understanding Food Safety

Nice article in QA&FS on starting a food business and the need to understand food safety parameters.  The information presented mirrors what we have found - when people understand the food safety elements, they are better able to design their process and product. 

Too many new processors develop their process and then have to redo their concept after discovering that they have created opportunities for spoilage or pathogen contamination.  Understanding HACCP principles, which is really a risk analysis, helps the new processor evaluate the process and identify the needed controls.  They learn about proper process flow to prevent cross contamination, processing parameters to eliminate pathogens, and sanitation to remove hazards such as allergens.

Supplier control is another important concept for the entrepreneur, especially if that person is considering having another group co-pack the product.  While it is the co-packer who will be tasked with control, it helps if the entrepreneur has an understanding of what the co-packer should be doing.  Ultimately, it is the entrepreneurs label that goes on the product.

For more resources on Starting a Food Business, visit this Penn State website:

Quality Assurance and Food Safety
Small Business Success
Features - Plant Management
Overcoming the Challenges of Limited Funds and Resources
April 8, 2016
Lisa Lupo

Mindy and Larry Parker have a room filled with blue ribbons and trophies for the rhubarb salsa they can from the fruits of their backyard garden, and it has always sold out at the local farmers’ markets. Because of that, their friends and family had long been encouraging them to take their All-Natural ML Salsa to the next level, and offer it to the regional Clarks Grocery. To their surprise, the chain accepted the salsa …

Now what?

Although the ML Salsa story is fictitious, with a simple change of name and product, it is a true account of the start-up of many food producers. The difference, and a determination of their success, lies in what did happen next; how the new company weathered the challenges of being a small business.

SMALL BUSINESS CHALLENGES. “When you start up, you have so many challenges,” said Shawn McBride, vice president of Foah International and chair of the Specialty Food Association (SFA). “You don’t even know what you don’t know.” Nor do most know where or how to find out what you need to know that you don’t know. So you have to rely on the advice of others, venture forward by trial and error, and learn by hard knocks. But when you’re talking about food safety, trial and error can result in very hefty “hard knocks” to both you and your customers – from issues of regulatory noncompliance to those of contamination, recall, and consumer illness. This is particularly critical today with the increased requirements – and pending deadlines – of FSMA, and the intensified media scrutiny of all things food.

So how do small and very small companies, given the limited dollars and resources of most, learn what they need to know and implement it? If you’re unique, you may get a chance to be mentored and financed by a “Shark Tank” investor (like Chapul Founder Pat Crowley of QA’s Eating Insects cover profile []) or hear their ideas, then decline their offers (like Copa Di Vino Founder James Martin of Wine by the Glass []). But such opportunities are far from the norm – and even these investors often have little knowledge about food safety.

But, despite the challenges, it is critical that all businesses – small or large – ensure they understand the basics of food safety along with regulatory and customer requirements and build the cost of these and the needed resources into the business from the start. “So many people low-ball their expected expenses,” said Renfro Foods President Doug Renfro. “And every year that passes, the expenses are greater – that’s just the way it is.”

“Money is a big issue,” agreed Avenue Gourmet Owner and President Patricia Lobel. “People think the money they have in the bank is enough, but it never is.” As a specialty foods distributor, Lobel has found that it’s usually easy for the small company to get the first pallet of product out, but it then may take three or four months to produce enough product for the next shipment – and by that time, they’ve lost their spot in the store. “It’s a commitment to produce product,” she said. “You have to be prepared. You have to be able to see beyond the first hundred cases.”

START WITH THE BASICS. Partners Crackers Vice President Cara Figgins recommends that small businesses begin by investing in HACCP training, which is relatively inexpensive, but gives businesses a basic knowledge and good starting point for food safety initiatives, with most courses now likely including FSMA information as well.

“Everyone should get HACCP training,” she said. “You’ll start looking at things through a different lens.” It causes you to look at and think about the practices you employ for which you may not have otherwise considered the food safety aspect. Additionally, Figgins said, it is helpful because “HACCP is very specific and actionable.” This is beneficial for both management initiatives as well as worker training. For example, she said, people often put on rubber gloves to protect themselves from whatever it is they are working with. But for food safety, you can explain to workers that “they are wearing gloves to protect food from them, not to protect them from the food.”

HACCP training generally requires two days away from the office or plant (with some providers also offering online training). “But if it’s important – which it is – you just do it,” Figgins said. “If you don’t have a basic understanding of HACCP, you have nowhere to go.

“I think it’s really easy to make an excuse that you’re too busy to do it, but you’re never too busy to get that organized,” she said. “Taking two days to take a HACCP course will prevent such headaches down the road.” Besides that, Figgins said, having such programs brings opportunities. “It opens doors for you. I wouldn’t be able to sell to Costco if I didn’t have a food safety program.”
To continue -

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